Don’t be fooled – laminitis is not just a condition affecting overweight ponies, or horses turned out in lush paddocks or fed buckets full of concentrates. It can strike at any age, to any type or condition of horse – and even without any of the classic precursors, such as Cushing’s disease. Of course, the above are all contributing factors to the onset of laminitis, but there are several reasons a horse or pony might contract it…
How does a horse get laminitis?
* From overeating, being too fat or inappropriate balance of food groups
* Because of imbalanced body chemistry or diseases/conditions which make this happen
* Mechanical reasons, eg excessive concussion of the hoof or failure of hoof structure.
* Stress – eg, a traumatic trip in a horsebox
* Poisonous substances, and events creating these substances in the body
Spot the signs
Signs can range from the subtle to the very obvious – here’s what to look out for.
* Classic laminitic stance – see right.
* Pounding digital pulse on affected legs.
* Varying degrees of pain the hoof
As soon as you spot the first signs of laminitis, call the vet then take the following action…
Bring your horse into the stable and put him on a deep bed – shavings ideally – in order to support his feet – then give him a sachet of ‘bute. Any movement will place stress on the laminar bed of the foot, which can result in pedal bone rotation and exacerbate the pain. Strict confinement is essential in cases of acute laminitis, but if you don’t have access to a stable, fence off a small area of bare paddock.
When your vet arrives, he will treat for pain and provide digital support for the foot. He’ll then discuss your horse’s medication, which normally includes a course of ‘bute. Acepromazine (ACP) is a prescription-only drug that is favoured for its vasodilatory (blood vessel widening) and tranquilising effects – it may be worth discussing the use of this with your vet.
Your horse’s diet will need to be carefully restricted – eg, soaked hay, plus small amounts of a light alfalfa that your horse’s medication can be mixed into. Grass and any other form of feed – including treats like carrots – will be removed until the laminitis is under control.
If your horse is predisposed to laminitis or you’re worried in times of high risk – like Spring and Autumn – remember the following:
- Obesity is a major cause, so keep your horse’s weight in check.
Avoid feeding foods rich in carbohydrate or rapidly fermentable fibre – i.e. cereals, coarse mixes, rapidly growing or fertilised grass. Grass high in fructans is especially dangerous, and this includes grass which has been exposed to an overnight frost.
- Check your horse’s field for wild plants – these can contain laminitis-inducing toxins.
- If your horse is severely lame on one leg, putting all his weight on the adjacent limb can cause laminitis to rear its ugly head. Talk to your vet about providing support to weight-bearing limbs.
- Avoid fast or prolonged work on hard surfaces, as this can cause trauma to the laminae – particularly if horn quality is poor.
- If you have a mare, be especially vigilant when she is in season, as this can be a precursor.
- Some horses may even show laminitis during cold weather, so fit warm leg wraps during cold snaps to eliminate the risk.
- Make your horse’s life as stress-free as possible.
- Avoid the use of the group of drugs named corticosteroids wherever possible, unless your vet advises otherwise.
- Avoid turning your horse out if he has a condition score greater than 3.
- Limit grass intake by way of a grazing muzzle, or by restricting the area available for grazing.